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Manchester United Season Review 2015/16


He came, he saw, he failed to conquer. Louis’ reign as the Manchester United manager came to an end 48 hours after lifting the FA Cup.

He was fired by the United board for not achieving the aims of the club mainly the failure to qualify for Champions League football next season.

Van Gaal has departed without anybody being any the wiser on what exactly the Dutchman’s philosophy was. All he has left is a legacy of tactical ineptitude that bemused the fans and left them frustrated.

Louis van Gaal came to United in 2014 saying all the right things, but ended his second season, saying all the wrong things. Of course, the fans’ expectations are high we are talking about Manchester United after all but to say that we put too much expectation on the team is ridiculous, to say the least.

The Dutch coach arrived at the club with an impressive CV after many successful years in club football and at the helm of the Dutch national squad. However, in two full seasons his philosophy got us absolutely nowhere, in fact, in the league they even went one step backwards.

Last summer Old Trafford was all abuzz with the marquee signings van Gaal had made, including the German international Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton, little-known Italian defender Matteo Darmian, exciting young prospect on the wing Memphis Depay, Argentine keeper Romero and the most expensive teenager at the time Anthony Martial.

Out of those summer buys only Martial proved his full worth as was evident on his scoring debut against bitter rivals Liverpool. That scoring form continued throughout his debut season ending up United’s leading scorer with 17. A total that sounds low until you consider that he spent the season out on the left wing.

Schneiderlin also performed admirably as did Darmian, but the others not so much. Schweinsteiger spent the last two months out injured and Memphis endured a torrid season blighted by a dramatic drop in confidence which meant he spent most of his first season on the bench. Romero played the first six games until De Gea’s new contract was signed then he managed only four more appearances.

Van Gaal, like a lot of the players, talked up a good game especially in his famous press conferences. But when it came to the important part they failed to deliver time and time again on the pitch. Ten defeats in a league season is simply unacceptable.

The biggest problem had to be the distinct lack of goals that cost us a top four place as we ended the season on equal points with Man City who enjoyed a far greater goal difference.

In total United scored only 49 goals in the Premier League, which is the lowest achieved by a United team since the 1989-90 season, 46. The top scorer in the league was Anthony Martial with 11. Therein lies the problem. For all the possession they enjoyed the main problem was the inability to put the ball in the back of the net especially when you consider Wayne Rooney scored the only hat-trick of the season in August against FC Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifier.

In the past, all the players contributed to the goals for column, but this season, the highest scoring midfielder was Mata with 6 and the defenders only managed two goals between them. On the subject of the defence it was one of the meanest in the league conceding 35.

At Old Trafford, the visitors only managed to score 9 times. This was down mainly to the partnership of Smalling and Blind and of course the brilliant De Gea who rescued his team on countless occasions.

Playing players in different positions, also had the fans scratching their heads in disbelief and at times amusement. Young, a winger, as the main striker while Martial, a centre forward, was on the wing. Rooney was utilised more in the midfield where he had some decent games. But Paul Scholes he is not and his scoring ability was wasted there.

Some players were used sparingly during the season and others too much. Herrera often had to take a back seat to Felliani and Carrick looked off the pace at times.

Goalkeeper David De Gea picked up his third player of the year award in a row and this shows how inadequately the outfield players grasped the manager’s tactics and were left to play without any urgency or in a cut throat attacking style.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. United did play well against the so called big teams, including a double over bitter rivals Liverpool, a tremendous performance against Arsenal at home, beating City at the Etihad and the 3-0 win at Goodison which was probably the best away performance of the season. And they ended the campaign with their 12th FA Cup win and their first silverware for three seasons.

However, it was the inability to put the lower sides to the sword, especially in defeat to the likes of Swansea, Bournemouth, Sunderland and relegated Norwich after dominating in those games that hurt the most. Newcastle, also relegated, held United to two draws. Lost points that had an adverse effect on the final league position.

The fact that Leicester City have been crowned Premier League champions shows that there has been a shift in power from the standard big four. It will be interesting to see how the Foxes fare next season along with West Ham, Spurs and Southampton who all brought a breath of fresh air to the league.

If there is any consolation in finishing fifth in the league it is that Chelsea and Liverpool will miss out completely on Europe after both had replaced their managers and still failed to deliver.

As regards United’s endeavours, or lack of, in Europe that didn’t go so well either. They finished third in what looked a fairly easy group and ended up in the Europa League where they were eventually knocked out by Liverpool after basically a no show at Anfield in the last 16 first leg.

The terrible double leg fracture suffered by Luke Shaw early in the campaign was a major blow to the United defence, but it did signal the rise of the youngsters to be given a chance by van Gaal in the first team.

There is one thing that van Gaal can take from his two-year tenure and that is, he brought the youngsters through from the lower ranks and gave them their chances in the first team. However, it has to be said that was due mainly to necessity rather than choice. He had released Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson on loan before the new year and didn’t make any cover signings during the January transfer window, so in effect he had no choice but to turn to the reserves and Under-18’s academy players.

The first of those introduced to join by now regular and cup final hero Jesse Lingard was Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at full back then the likes of Love, Varela, Poole, Weir and the great young talent Fosu-Mensah also had opportunities presented to them due to many injuries in the defence. Marcos Rojo missed a huge chunk of the season after shoulder surgery and the same went for Antonio Valencia.

It has to be said that the youngster that had the biggest impact on the side had to be 18-year-old local lad Marcus Rashford. Talk about a Roy of the Rovers introduction to life as a Man United hero.

Two debut doubles in two matches against Midtjylland in the Europa League and Arsenal in the Premier League had the fans and media foaming at the mouth at this talented goal scorer who clearly wasn’t daunted by the prospect of playing regularly for the first team.

The United reserves retained their League Champions crown which speaks volumes for the work that the coach Warren Joyce did to bring such a talented group of players together and become a feeder for the first team.

So, another chapter in Manchester United’s illustrious history has come to an end and now it’s time to turn the next page. One that will hopefully see our great club return to where it belongs and knock Leicester off their perch. Over to you Jose!

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Rooney Runs The Show


Manchester United 3 Bournemouth 1

The final day of the season is not usually known for its drama off the pitch, but on it. That was exactly the case at Old Trafford on Sunday following the bomb scare that caused the stadium to be cleared and the match to be rescheduled.

After the suspect package had been discovered the security staff have to be praised for the calm way they conducted the evacuation of 75,000 people in such an orderly fashion.

However, questions have to be raised at the club in regards to the way a suspect package had been left unnoticed for four days. And the security company that left it there have to be dragged over the coals for their ineptitude.

The last league game of the season eventually saw United welcome Bournemouth to Old Trafford after the understandable postponement of the match on Sunday.

This rescheduled match meant two things. Firstly,  United knew that barring a victory of 19 plus goals, there would be no Champions League football next season. Secondly, it would interrupt preparations for the upcoming FA Cup final against Crystal Palace this weekend.

How would these factors effect van Gaal’s team selection from the one he chose for the original game? The answer was it didn’t as he picked the exact same eleven: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Martial and Rashford. In came the recalled trio of Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick and Lingard at the expense of Rojo, injured in training, Schneiderlin, ill and Herrera who started on the bench.

In all honesty, there was very little to say about the first half as it had been pretty much unremarkable until Rooney gave the fans something to cheer as he netted his 100th Premier League goal at Old Trafford in the 43rd minute.

The captain had the easiest of finishes as he buried the ball into the back of the net after Martial and Mata had played a neat one-two with each other and the former produced a cross that Rashford stepped over which left Rooney able to pounce. One down, only 18 to go.

Before the opener the closest the sides came to raising the pulse of the fans was when Carrick almost got a touch to a Rooney delivery from a free kick and at the other end, Pugh had an effort blocked by Valencia. The match had that feeling of a pre-season friendly written all over it.

At least at the start of the second half, both sides had decided to make a go of it with Rooney eyeing up a shot that was blocked and Mata who went to ground in the penalty area after being caught from behind but referee Jon Moss waved play on.

The visitors had their moments when Pugh and Wilson tried their luck from the edge of the area but would need to do better to beat De Gea.

Carrick was the next player to jolt the fans into life as he blasted a swerving, long-distance drive against the crossbar.

At the centre of United’s attacking forays were Martial’s quick feet on the left and the precise passing of Rooney from his midfield position.

Somehow the score remained 1-0 after a spot of football pinball inside the Cherries box after great play by Rashford. The ball just wouldn’t go in after every shot was blocked by the defenders.

United had found the desire to kill the game off and Valencia came close with a cracker of a shot that Bournemouth keeper Federici brilliantly saved with his fingertips.

What a difference the two halves were proving to be.

The home side had another penalty shout when Lingard was brought down. However, the referee wasn’t interested in the appeals of United.

The visitors did manage to put the ball in the net, but to their disappointment, Wilson was correctly ruled offside. It was a reminder to United that one goal might not be enough.

Right on cue Rashford made it 2-0 in the 75th minute. The move started with a delightful ball played deep into the box by Rooney which was headed back into the danger area by Valencia and there was Rashford to fire a low shot into the net and celebrate his call-up to England’s provisional squad for the European Championships.

Van Gaal made three substitutions in the last ten minutes with Herrera, Memphis and Young replacing Mata, Rashford and Martial. And it was the forgotten man Young, who produced the icing get on the cake in the 87th minute with United’s third goal of the game after great work from the man of the match, Rooney. He beat the defence with a well-timed chip to provide Young with the easiest of chances to score to which he duly obliged.

The match had time for one more twist when in added time Smalling managed to put the ball into his own goal which denied De Gea a share of the league’s golden glove, much to the Spaniards dismay judging by his reaction.

After an anti-climatic first half at least the players brought the game to life in the second half. Rooney pulled the strings from his midfield role and provided a master class of passing combined with his never say die attitude when chasing back.

The main objective apart from the win was to not sustain any injuries before the cup final. In that respect mission accomplished.

United had chances so many times this season to make sure they booked their seat at the caviar and champagne table of the European elite and only have themselves to blame for ending up picking up the scraps in the Europa League.

Have we witnessed the van Gaal farewell at the Theatre of Dreams? Which in all reality has turned out to be nothing less than a nightmare for the coach who arrived with such high expectations following an impressive career across Europe. However, once again the season has fallen short for the club under his so-called philosophy.

Surely the time has come to put everyone, including van Gaal, out of their misery. No matter what happens in the FA Cup final the board have to find the right person who can take United in a new direction or witness the further demise of our great club.

Thanks for reading. Next stop Wembley.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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United Blow Their Chance


West Ham United 3 Manchester United 2

It was a night of heated tension as Manchester United came from behind only to gift West Ham two goals in the space of five minutes which allowed them to leave their home for the last 112 years on a high.

The evening started badly for the Red Devils even before the match had begun when their team bus came under attack on the way to the stadium. An event that could have shook the players confidence even before they had entered the ground. However, no excuses can be made for the way they squandered the lead after Martial’s double had put their noses in front.

This was the first of two important matches for the Red Devils in their season finale that would determine if their quest for a top-four finish would indeed materialise after another fairly disappointing season.

The target was clear win the last two games and they would secure a Champions League place at the expense of Man City. There could have been no greater incentive.

Louis van Gaal’s starting XI had a strong look about it: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mata, Rooney, Rashford and Martial. Van Gaal made four changes by bringing back Blind, Schneiderlin, Rashford and Martial, who had been a doubt after pulling out in the warm-up against Norwich.

The match was delayed for forty-five minutes to allow Man United more time to prepare for the game as their team bus was late arriving at the ground due to the mass of home fans outside the stadium. Fans decided it would be fun to pelt the United bus with various objects including beer bottles and probably jellied eels as it was the East End.

Once the match got under way it became abundantly clear that not only did United have to overcome the opposition but also the partisan home crowd if they were to come away with the victory.

Immediately following the kick-off West Ham bombarded United’s penalty area and in doing so created panic in the away defence.

Martial didn’t seem to be hampered by injury as he burst into the box in the opening minutes and was unlucky not to be awarded a corner.

It was not the start United wanted when the Hammers took the lead in the tenth minute following a cross from the left that found Sakho unmarked in the box and his effort was deflected by Blind past the despairing dive of De Gea to give the home fans more to shout about.

This was proving to be a match that would truly test the characters of the United players as they were in a cauldron of hate pouring down from he stands.

West Ham had a perfect opportunity to double their lead when Carroll was played clean through but with only De Gea to beat he placed his shot too close to the keeper who managed to get a block in and save Smalling’s embarrassment as it was the defender who lost the run of Carroll.

The ball was in the United net again in the twenty-first minute but thankfully for United, the goal was disallowed as it had already crossed the line for a corner.

As the half hour mark approached United finally started to put some decent passes together and created some space on the flanks but were let down by the final ball.

On one such attack Valencia and Martial linked well on the right and when the cross was played over Mata was adjudged to have fouled a defender as he headed goalward.

After a rare mistake from Martial, who slipped while in possession, Payet was gifted a golden chance but he totally miscued his shot and it curled harmlessly wide.

At the other end, Rashford tried to get on the end of a pacey Rooney cross but the youngster seemed to mess up his jump and the chance was gone.

As the half neared its conclusion it was the home side who were on the front foot and had plenty of chances to put the game beyond the reach of the visitors.

There was a late shout for a penalty after Martial was nudged as he sped into the penalty area. However, Mike Dean immediately waved away the claims from the United players.

Half-time and behind to only a single goal meant that in the second half United still had to hope they could overturn the score. The biggest problem in the first half was that United weren’t allowed to settle and when they did have the ball they didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

The most creative player for United had been Rooney, who in his deeper role tried to pick out the runs of his forwards and was unlucky on a couple of occasions that his passes hadn’t been as pinpoint as usual.

United got the second half underway looking for a vastly improved second forty-five minutes compared to the first. Van Gaal made his first change at the start of the half when he replaced Schneiderlin with West Ham old boy Carrick.

In the 51st minute, the home fans failed to return the ball to De Gea from behind his goal so a replacement ball was called for. From De Gea’s goal kick the new ball eventually fell at the feet of Mata who showed great awareness inside the area to cut the ball back from the byline and his pass was swept home by Martial to make the scores level.

Superb play by Mata to create a chance out of a long punt by his keeper. Bet the home fans wished they hadn’t delayed play by not returning the ball.

Unfortunately, Martial followed up his strike with the first booking of the match.

United were looking more dangerous in attack as Rashford tried a cheeky backheel across the six-yard area that Herrera was unlucky not to get on the end of.

The Hammers still provided their own threats on United’s goal and in one attempted header by Carroll it took a goal line clearance by Rashford to save a certain goal.

As the match entered the last twenty minutes tackles flew in left right and centre and there were two cautions in quick succession for Carroll and Valencia.

Then in the 72nd minute, that man Anthony Martial scored his second of the game and 17th of the season to put United into a 2-1 lead.

The move began with Rooney who played the ball through to Rashford who in turn passed to Martial on the left-hand side of the area. The French forward still had a lot of work to do as he dribbled his way into the box then from a tight angle clipped the ball into the net. A brilliant finish from a player on top of his game.

After the jubilation of the equaliser, West Ham pressed United back and then turned the game on its head with two soft goals both headed in from close range by Antonio and Reid that stemmed from a couple of set pieces delivered by Payet and poorly defended by the United back four.

The last fifteen minutes were played out against a crescendo of noise generated by the home fans around the ground. They must have been loving the fact that they had got one over United.

Herrera was substituted after he had been cautioned and was replaced by Lingard for the last five minutes. The last change by van Gaal was to introduce Januzaj for Valencia to try and rescue at least a point from the game which they failed to do.

Game over and United headed back up north licking their wounds knowing that they had blown a great chance to come away with a win but instead fell to their tenth defeat in the league.

From the start West Ham went for the throat fired up by the occasion with the backing of their fans behind them and United seemed to take an age to settle especially at the back. Everybody knows what a danger Payet poses at dead ball situations so why on earth did the United players continue to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas? Once Martial had provided the lead United imploded in the space of five minutes with a display of inept defending and only have themselves to blame.

Now the advantage has been handed back to Man City who have to win away at Swansea while United host Bournemouth in the final games of the season. The Swans are not a push over so expect a few more twists and turns during the last ninety minutes of the current campaign.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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